What will they call their new country?

July 29, 1992|By David Rocks | David Rocks,Contributing Writer

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- For many Czechs who live in the more prosperous western part of Czechoslovakia, among the many questions they will face if the country separates, one small problem weighs very heavily: What to call their new country?

For the other half of the territory, the Slovak half, the answer is easy: Slovakia. The region has long been called that, and it would be a natural name.

But for Czechs, it's more complex. Even today, the region is often called "the Czech lands," because "Czechia" just doesn't quite cut it, "Czecho" sounds unfinished, and "the Czech Republic" sounds too formal for everyday use.

"We shouldn't change the name or the flag or anything," said an excited Ladislav Rozum, jabbing his index finger into the chest of his interlocutor. "There are hundreds of thousands of Slovaks who live here. We should just be called Czechoslovakia."

That, of course, doesn't sit too well with many Slovaks, who think the "Slovakia" part should be theirs alone.

"That's not friendly," said Roman Zelenay, a Slovak who is vice chairman of the Federal Assembly. "That would be as if Liberia were to call itself the U.S.A. One should only call oneself by one's own name, and the name of Slovakia doesn't belong to them."

One possibility would be simply "Bohemia," the English term for the western part of the Czech Republic. But the problem is that the word doesn't have that meaning in Czech. In the Czech language, a "bohemian" is a person who stays out late discussing politics or poetry while smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

"In Czech, the word [Bohemia] doesn't exist," said Zdenek Urbanek, rector of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. "In our national anthem, which asks in the first verse, 'Where is my home?' the reply is, 'The Czech land is my home.' "

Another problem with "Bohemia" is that it ignores the second half of the republic, Moravia, as well as the smaller region of Silesia.

So how about a bow to the Moravians with, perhaps, the "Republic of Bohemia and Moravia?" This, it turns out, would stir up too many unpleasant memories.

"In terms of geographics and demographics, it should be called Bohemia and Moravia," Mr. Urbanek said. "But that would remind us of the time of Hitler and the war. Then it was called the 'Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.' "

Some are proposing that in keeping with the tradition of the federation that appears to be ending, the name could be "Czechomoravia." But that could lead to demands that the name be spelled "CzechoMoravia," or perhaps even "Czecho-Moravia."

Indeed, in the words of one noted observer, any such formulation could create more problems that it solves. Bearing in mind the months that the federal parliament spent arguing over the spelling of the unified country's name, Vaclav Havel said he preferred to leave the name simply the "Czech Republic."

"If we open that for discussion," the former Czechoslovak (or is it Czecho-Slovak?) president said with a chuckle, "We might end up with a name like the 'Czecho-Moravo-Silesian Federative Republic' or something like that."

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